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Facebook taps BSNL for India WiFi foray

Facebook to partner ISP across rural areas for local entrepreneurs; develops customised software

Mansi Taneja  |  New Delhi 

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg | Photo: Sanjay K Sharma

This article has been modified. Please see clarification at the end

After the launch of in India, social media platform is set to partner (ISP) across rural areas in the country. This is to enable entrepreneurs to offer internet in small data packages - as low as Rs 10 - to consumers.

has purchased bandwidth from state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in 125 rural areas for Rs 10 crore for three years, chairman and managing director told Business Standard.

Bandwidth is usually referred to as the amount of information/data which can be transmitted over a network, in bits per second.

Consumers can access internet through hotspots. These are being set up by BSNL's partner across these locations. The services run on an unlicensed band - 2.4 GHz frequency - and consumers can get a speed of about two megabits per second, or Mbps, Shrivastava added.

Facebook's plan is to offer WiFi-enabled broadband services under their initiative Express WiFi, which is currently in beta phase.

Said Munish Seth, country manager-connectivity solutions, India: "This (Express WiFi) will empower a local entrepreneur to purchase inexpensive hardware and start business to offer internet access in their town or region. Besides, it will also allow customers to purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packages to access the internet via local hotspots."

The tieup with came amidst the visit of chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) to India last year in October, which was his second visit in 12 months. Before this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the HQ in California in September last year.

has customised software for rural markets, making it simpler to do things, including billing and sending alerts on data usage. It will partner with local ISPs to expand network access, besides developing connectivity ecosystem by providing technical and financial assistance to local partners as well as entrepreneurs, Seth added.

"Scaling this solution (Express WiFi) will offer benefits to India, including providing a new base of small businesses and accelerating the spread of affordable internet access, which will have economic and social benefits across the country. The long-term objective is for the business model to be economically sustainable for allowing our partners and entrepreneurs in rural India to run a profitable business," Seth said.

The social media giant had earlier partnered Reliance Communications to offer Free Basics, under which mobile subscribers can access certain websites without incurring data charges. The initiative has run into rough weather with the telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) asking RCom to stop the commercial launch of till further approval. Trai is also in the midst of framing its policy on differential pricing of data services by operators, which will decide the future of plans, including and zero-rated platforms. These plans created furore on the issue of net neutrality, with many experts saying there is violation of basic net neutrality tenets.

resorted to aggressive marketing to garner support for its in India. Its users here were prompted to send mails to Trai in support of the product. Trai received about 2.4 million comments, of which around 1.9 million comments came from users on its consultation paper for differential pricing in data services. Trai is expected to come up with its recommendations on the issue by the end of January.

Both and Express are part of, through which is trying to connect the unconnected onto the internet across various countries, including Through connectivity lab, which again is a part of, it plans to expand network access to locations that have none or limited connectivity, by focusing on infrastructure - including satellites - lasers and unmanned aerial systems.

With about 130 million users in the country, India is a key market for India has the social media platform's largest app developer community outside the US. Of the 5,000 developers on Facebook's app development platform FbStart, around 1,000 are from the Asia-Pacific region, of which 40 per cent are from India. More than 75 per cent of the top-grossing apps in India are integrated with

  • to partner with local across rural areas for local entrepreneurs; develops customised software
  • Bought bandwidth from for Rs 10 crore for three years
  • BSNL's partner to set up hotspots across 125 locations for Facebook
  • Express WiFi, by Facebook, is in testing phase. Aims to help locals set up business and offer internet access in their location, with data packages as low as Rs 10
  • Facebook's Free Basics, in partnership with RCom, has run into rough weather in India
  • India is the one of the largest market for Facebook, with 130 million users

has clarified that it is not acting as an internet service operator (ISP) but is partnering with local to expand network access to learn more about barriers to connectivity and internet adoption in rural communities. We stand corrected.

First Published: Fri, January 15 2016. 00:57 IST